Korean food, comprising of delicious items from the Korean and Manchurian cuisines is specially noted for its banchan, a wide array of accompaniment dishes served with a meal of rice. A number of regional specialties have been promoted to the status of national dishes in this South East Asian cuisine. The Korean cuisine can be categorized not only according to geographical factors, but also on a number of other factors such as religious, royal court, vegetarianism, and seasonal preferences amongst others. Rice is the staple Korean food. Popular Korean recipes include Kimchi (a side dish made with fermented vegetables), beef bulgogi (a marinated and grilled beef steak dish), Kalbi (Korean barbecued shortribs), Tak Toritang (a spicy chicken and potato dish),and miso (Korean bean curd soup).
Korean food can be classified into a number of types based on factors already mentioned.
- Geographically, the Korean cuisine can be divided into eight traditional provincial cuisines which with their own typical Korean recipes depending upon the cultivated resources and also on the climate of the region. Now with modernization and communication improving over the years, the distinction between the various regions has faded to a large extent and the foods prepared reflect an influence of different national and regional cultures.
- Royal court food, also known as kungjiung c' msik , in the olden days, was an elegant affair. This was characterized by preparation of specialties daily and they were not dependent on the seasonal crops. Royal food from each of the provinces was prepared in the royal Korean cuisine every month and food and dining occupied a very significant place in the Korean Royal culture. A rice porridge made of white rice, abalone, pine nuts and mushrooms amongst others is a royal dish that constituted the meal. Kimchi was also an essential part of the Royal meal. Banquets were a significant part of Korean food culture and consisted of a number of elaborately prepared dishes. Chogyetang is a dish made with five varieties of chicken, twenty eggs, five abalones, ten sea cucumbers, mushrooms and a number of other ingredients. Yakshik is a royal dessert made with glutinous rice.
- Buddhist cuisine - It consist of simple religious food, but is strongly influenced by the Royal court cuisine as most of the female cooks from the royal court joined the Buddhist temples as nuns. Chalbap( a dish made with sticky rice), yumilgwa ( a brunch food item made with puffed rice), sangchu ssam( lettuce wraps) are some of the most common temple food from the Korean cuisine.
- Vegan cuisine - the religious influence on Korean food from the times of the Goryeo dynasty has brought in the vegan and vegetarian food culture. Kimchi, tofu and bibimbap( a rice dish made using other ingredients like vegetables) are some of the important dishes of the vegan cuisine.
- Festival foods - the Korean food for festivals comes with huge variety. Rice, noodles, fish seafood, vegetables and meat are used in a number of ways in the preparation of different types of Korean recipes. Rice cakes, rice beverages, kimchi are some of the popular dishes for rituals. Hot soups, dry snacks and an assortment of fruits mark the Korean ritual food menu.
- Health foods- Certain Korean foods, called the boyangsik, which are specially eaten during the hottest month of the Korean calendar called the Sambok, are known for their aphrodisiacal and energy giving properties. They are ginseng, dog meat snakes, chicken, abalone, black goat, bone marrow, eel and carp amongst others.
Historical and Cultural influences on Korean Cuisine
Korean food has a long history which dates back from 1500 BCE to 8000 BCE which constitutes the Juelmun and Mumun pottery periods which was characterized by fishing and hunting and later by the cultivation of cereals and domestication of animals. A noteworthy culinary feature of this period was the fermentation of beans. The period from 57 BCE- 668 CE, the Goryeo Dynasty period, saw the invention of a number important dishes of the cuisine which are being eaten even today. Kimchi, mandu( dumplings), grilled meat and noodle dishes, were all invented during this period. The usage of black pepper for culinary purposes also began in the Korean cuisine during this period. The modern Korean cuisine begins in the early 1900s and continues to the present. It is characterized by the influence of the colonial Japanese cuisine in the early periods. The consumption of meat rose in this period and the quantity of rice consumed decreased. Bread and noodles were viewed as enjoyable alternatives to rice and rice dishes. Bude jiggae, a spicy Korean stew, and bulgogi were some of the foods that were invented or rose in popularity during these periods.
Korean food comprises of a number of main dishes, served with accompaniments. A number of Korean desserts are also the main feature of the meal. A Korean meal is typically made up of the following items:
- Soups- Korean soups are of a number of types and unlike the soups of the western cuisines are not served as appetizers. They are served as accompaniments to rice and even served as a main dish depending on the ingredients used. Guk, tang, jjigae, malgueguk, tojangguk, gomuk, naengguk, are some of the Korean soups and soup categories.
- Banchan- these are accompaniment dishes served with the Korean main course dishes. They are grilled, steamed, raw and Jeon Korean dishes. They do not include the different types of stews and soups of the cuisine which are also served as accompaniment or main course dishes.
- Noodles - known as guksu or myeon in Korean these long strands made of wheat, buckwheat and other cereals are a staple everyday and festive food. Bibim Guksu, konggukusu( noodles cooked in a broth of soya bean), milguksu( wheat noodles), Jajangmyeon( noodles with black bean sauce, cubed pork, vegetables and seafood). This is also sold as a popular Korean fast food. Ramyeon is a variety of Korean ready noodles which are like the ramen noodles.
- Anju - these are snacks served with alcoholic drinks. Dubu Kimchi( kimchi with bean curd) and jokbal( a dish made with pigâ€™s feet which is sauced with soy sauce)
The long and continuous shape of the milguksu and memilguksu , the wheat and buckwheat Korean noodles are mostly prepared for Korean special occasions as it is believed to represent longevity of life and a marriage with long sustenance.